Flight kinematics of the barn swallow over a wide range of speeds in a wind tunnel

Two barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) flying in the Lund wind tunnel were filmed using synchronised high-speed cameras to obtain posterior, ventral and lateral views of the birds in horizontal flapping flight. We investigated wingbeat kinematics, body tilt angle, tail spread and angle of attack at speeds of 4–14ms−1. Wingbeat frequency showed a clear U-shaped relationship with air speed with minima at 8.9ms−1(bird 1) and 8.7ms−1 (bird 2). A method previously used by other authors of estimating the body drag coefficient (CD,par) by obtaining agreement between the calculated minimum power (Vmin) and the observed minimum wingbeat frequency does not appear to be valid in this species, possibly due to upstroke pauses that occur at intermediate and high speeds, causing the apparent wingbeat frequency to be lower. These upstroke pauses represent flap-gliding, which is possibly a way of adjusting the force generated to the requirements at medium and high speeds, similar to the flap-bound mode of flight in other species. Body tilt angle, tail spread and angle of attack all increase with decreasing speed, thereby providing an additional lift surface and suggesting an important aerodynamic function for the tail at low speeds in forward flight. Results from this study indicate the high plasticity in the wingbeat kinematics and use of the tail that birds have available to them in order to adjust the lift and power output required for flight.


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